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3/21/2011
02:55 PM
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Google Says China Is Hindering Gmail

The company's decision last year to refuse to censor its search results in China continues to have repercussions.

In a move that could further dampen its business prospects in China, Google is accusing Chinese authorities of interfering with its Gmail service and attempting to conceal that interference.

Google says that Gmail users in China have been reporting difficulties using Gmail and that it has checked its systems and found no problems. "There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail."

The blockage appears to have been designed to disrupt client-server communication in a way that implicates Google's systems. Certain Gmail actions like sending a message or marking a message as read sometimes fail as a result of the interference.

This not the first time such charges have been leveled against the Chinese government.

Google used to offer a "Mainland China service availability" dashboard by which the performance of Google Apps in China could be tracked. It has since replaced this service with a global Transparency Report, which provides access to additional information about government data requests but less specific data about the performance of individual services in China.

Google last year revealed that it had been the target of a cyber attack from China and that the Gmail accounts of activists had been a secondary target of the attack. Information contained in a U.S. diplomatic cable by leaked Wikileaks indicates that Chinese authorities oversaw the attack on Google. At the time Google disclosed the attack, Chinese authorities denied any involvement.

Last week, Google warned of a security flaw in Microsoft Internet Explorer. It reported seeing a significant number of targeted and apparently politically-motivated attacks directed at those using Internet Explorer to access services at Google and at an unnamed social networking site.

Google made waves when it disclosed that its systems had been attacked from China because it decided to move its search business to Hong Kong to escape government-mandated censorship in mainland China. The ripples of those waves now threaten other Google services in China.

Chinese law requires that providers of online maps of China locate their servers in the country and operate as joint ventures with the government. Google currently operates a limited version of Google Maps in China, ditu.google.cn, but that service lacks interactive features, which irk Chinese authorities. The company is hoping to receive a license to operate an expanded version of Google Maps in China but there's no sign at the moment that the Chinese government will allow this.

Stefan Geens, who operates the Ogle Earth blog, has argued that Google's ongoing operation of ditu.google.cn is inconsistent with its pledge to stop censoring its services in China.

In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Daniel Alegre, president of Google's operations in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, insists that Google never left China and that the movement of its search operations to Hong Kong hasn't affected the prospects of its Android business in China.

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